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The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

Universities are key to levelling up: scrap year one fees for first in family students and redirect research funding to left behind regions

  • 27 February 2020
  • By Rachel Hewitt

A new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute, Making Universities Matter: How higher education can help to heal a divided Britain (HEPI Report 125), is calling for fundamental change to ensure universities meet the priorities of their communities and help the Government bridge social, economic and regional divides. 

Building on the recommendations of the Augar Review, the paper argues that the post-18 education system can realise its full potential through a renewed focus on the importance of partnerships, progression and place.

The report makes six ambitious recommendations for addressing these challenges:

  1. Government should establish a National Skills Council for England, bringing together leaders from colleges, universities, sector bodies and funding agencies with oversight of a new £400 million Future Economies Programme (funded from the Government’s £3 billion National Skills Fund) to drive collaboration and encourage locally focused partnerships to address skills shortages and educational disadvantage. 
  2. With capacity to access up to £10 million of Future Economies support, universities and colleges should develop comprehensive local skills agreements, outlining how they will work together to address the skills and educational needs of their local geography.
  3. Government should introduce a ‘First-in-Family Allowance’, ensuring the first year of a degree is tuition free for any student whose parents have not obtained a tertiary education.
  4. Both the sector and Government should come together to provide long-term financial and policy commitment to build on the success of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) and ensure every potential student has tailored support, guidance and advice on their educational options.  
  5. The Government should earmark £500 million of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund into a Regional Growth and Innovation Fund in order to drive innovation and investment across the country and address the debilitating productivity divide.
  6. The sector should sponsor and make active use of a Civic Index to help institutions measure and monitor their engagement activity with their local area. 

Lord (Bob) Kerslake, Chair of the Board of Governors for Sheffield Hallam University, former Head of the Home Civil Service and co-author of the report, said:

Brexit involves not just withdrawal from the European Union, but a fundamental shaping of the nation’s economic and social model. Universities need to be central to that conversation and help government reach out to parts of the country which have felt left behind by education and economic opportunity. This is our civic responsibility, and it needs to become core to our institutional values.

Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University and co-author of the report, said: 

It will be impossible for the sector to fulfil the vision of higher education as a force for social good without a significant reshaping of funding, responsibilities and incentives. We offer some starting ideas here, but this realignment is essential if higher education is to help the nation grapple with the deep challenges it faces.

Natalie Day, Head of Policy and Strategy at Sheffield Hallam University and co-author of the report, said:

We hope this report provides Michelle Donelan MP, the new Universities Minister, with several positive ideas and opportunities for government and the sector to forge common cause in levelling up the UK economy.

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at HEPI, said:

Recent years have shown some universities are not as closely attuned to their local communities as they thought they were. At the same time, they have been subjected to unprecedented levels of policy change by government, which has led to challenging competing priorities. This report provides a road map for universities to get back in touch with the places where they are based.

Notes for Editors

The Higher Education Policy Institute was established in 2002 to help shape the higher education debate with evidence. It is the UK’s only independent think tank devoted to higher education. HEPI is a non-partisan charity funded by higher education institutions and other organisations that wish to see a vibrant policy debate.

1 comment

  1. Gordon Dent says:

    “Government should introduce a ‘First-in-Family Allowance’, ensuring the first year of a degree is tuition free for any student whose parents have not obtained a tertiary education.”

    And how will government know whether their parents have obtained a tertiary education? We have had to remove first-in-family as a criterion for our widening-participation schemes as people lie about it. It’s easy enough to ask for evidence that somebody has had something (e.g. a degree certificate could be evidence that someone has had tertiary education). It is very difficult to get reliable evidence that somebody hasn’t had something.

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